Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa’s Cinnamon Hill house (1993), photographed by Dominic Sansoni.
Exhibition of work by the Sri Lankan architect, arranged by Suhanya Raffel and sponsored by Arts Queensland, at the RAIA, Brisbane, 20 September-20 October, 1996; later in Darwin and Sydney.
Review by John Hockings
This inspirational exhibition, originally compiled by the RIBA London and shown in London, Chicago, New York, Colombo and Sao Paolo, has been mounted in Brisbane to coincide with the Second Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. To accompany the exhibition, the Queensland Chapter of the RAIA has published a superb monograph illustrating six recent projects, which includes an interview with Bawa by his principal associate Channa Daswatte and a commentary on the projects by Michael Keniger.
On show are thirty projects covering the period 1957 to the present, making this a major exhibition of Bawa’s work. Projects range from the tiny Cinnamon Hill House (1993) to such expansive constructions as the new Kandalama Hotel (1994) and the University of Ruhunu (1980). The works are illustrated through a combination of evocative photographs and delightful drawings which highlight Bawa’s remarkable attitude to construction and landscape.
Those who know the man and who have experienced his buildings within their settings all testify to the power and appropriateness of his placemaking within the context of the Sri Lankan culture and landscape. For those of us who have not enjoyed these privileges, one assumes that subtleties inevitably will go unnoticed and that some of the magic will be lost.
There is, however, something so powerfully pan-human in the architecture that it speaks to us all. One senses in looking at the work that, if or when all is right with the world, this is the way one should best occupy it. In Bawa’s creations, the sensual intellect moves out into the landscape to temper and rearrange its place of abode and simultaneously invites that same landscape deep within the most cultured and domesticated interiors of its private world. This sense of easeful occupation, and of balance between nature and artifice, seems to me to define architecture in its most satisfying role; where it frames our understanding of how we should place ourselves on this earth.
Dr John Hockings is acting Dean of Architecture at the University of Queensland.
From Pillar To Post: Architectural Projects by UWA Graduates
Exhibition of work by selected graduates from the first 30 years of the University of Western Australia’s architecture course; at the Cullity Gallery, UWA, 2-20 September, 1996.
Review by Meghan Nordeck
Comprised of 18 architects with careers spanning up to 30 years, this exhibition was ambitious and wildly diverse. Exhibitors included Kerry Hill, Marcus Collins, Frank Young, Ross Donaldson and Simon Rodrigues, with more recent graduates Fred Chaney, Philip Vivian and Abbie Galvin. Work ranged from domestic to urban, encompassing a range of philosophies, practices, locations … What were we being shown?
The title seemed obvious but difficulties arise. Was the exhibition inclusive or did the title refer only to ‘real’ work accomplished after departure from the Academy? The catalogue foreword implied two assumptions. First, that there is a development of the architect after graduation. Undoubtedly. Second, that this is a transition from idealistic projects to the pragmatics of the built object. This is more troublesomesupposing various considerations about architecture, the role of the Academy, the nature of practice and, not least, whether undergraduates have any expectations.
UWA graduate Jeremy Stewart’s submission to the 1993 Spreebogen ideas competition for a new German Parliament in Berlin.
Perhaps it really was just about postgraduate careers, but this conclusion was hampered by frequent, oblique, references to an idea of progression and a blurry point of departure. The manifestation of curatorial concerns in ‘real’ terms wasn’t obvious. As a whole, the exhibition seemed slightly unbalanced. Partly, there was the problem of ‘mere’ student propositions being juxtaposed with photographs of ‘real’ buildings. Partly, too, professional work overwhelmed student work by numbers and technical virtuosity. Yet the notion of progression (and, possibly, the hypothetical schism) was oddly displaced by a highly graphic approach: it was noticeable that the polish of ‘real’ projects exhibited was strongly reminiscent of student presentations. Not a working drawing in sight.
Nonetheless, it was interesting to see what some local luminaries were once up to, and to compare final-year projects over the decades. Probably the most intriguing aspect was assessing the notion of progression: it seemed irrelevant to some work, apart from the acquisition of a certain technical capacity, while other displays manifested more dramatic shifts.
Exhibitors’ writings reflected similar ambiguities. Some referred to "cloistered academia"; others professed admiration for educators navigating between "producing corps of brain-dead technicians or wilful bunches of wonderful and inventive incompetents". Some asserted continuity; others dismissed youthful idealism in favour of mastery of technique. The difficulties of asking individuals to historicise themselves were neatly summed up by Kerry Hill, who noted: "We are somewhere midway" and Jeremy Stewart, who asked: "About what?"
From Pillar to Post presented intriguing comparisons of past and present states of the art. In certain regards, it was a successful demonstration of the interaction between the Academy and the professionalthough whether this had any relevance to the projects exhibited is quite another matter.
Meghan Nordeck is an architecture graduate from UWA working with Sasha Ivanovich & Associates, Bunbury, WA.
Exhibition of work by 10 graduates and staff of the University of Queensland, at the Australian Embassy, Paris, 12 July20 September, 1996. (Later at the Australian High Commission in London and the Australian Embassy Gallery in Jakarta.) Curated by Leo Ryan.
Review by Paul Reid
At first thought, the idea of flimsy Queensland houses displayed inside Seidler’s sculptured concrete set in Paris, is an extraordinary juxtaposition of images. It succeeds because each layer has such distinct aims and achieves them so well.
The exhibition comprises 10 double A0 sheets of text and images from 10 firms or individuals, hanging freely in the space below Seidler’s radiating T beams. This room is the result of Seidler’s mature, sophisticated and uncompromising statement of abstract form. It tells Parisians to take Australian seriously.
The young Queensland architects dance on Seidler’s stage. They take their work, but not themselves, seriously. The texts and images are complex; focusing on the craft and technology of timber, the handling of light, the environment of the bush; emphasising personal impressions. Presentation is provocative: folksy anecdotes with cryptic references, fragmented images that defy reassembly into complete projects. There is, however, a noticeable range of interest. Max Horner has something of a game with the rich variety of spaces in his Duck Palace. Donovan Hill, Arkhe Field, John Hockings and Bud Brannigan all focus on local environment and the problem at hand. Peter O’Gorman, clearly an important influence for many others, is impressive for the sophistication of his forms and words. Equally impressive is the way Also Architecture Studio elevate the examination of everyday domestic functions to universal themes.
Looking for the link with Seidler leads to expatriates Gerhard Murtagh and Karl Langer, who bring explicit European experience to dealing with Queensland buildings. Where Seidler remained consistent with the classic modern forms of Breuer and Gropius, Langer and Murtagh have adapted their principles to the character of Queensland. Of course the building types are very different. The work of all these Queensland architects stops well short of the challenge facing Seidler: a cultural monument in an historic city.
This is an exhibition of one facet (the individual small building) of one region (Queensland) of a remote country (Australia). Given those limitations, it makes a very strong impressiondue in no small part to the efforts of exhibition curator Leo Ryan.
Professor Paul Reid is in Paris on six months leave from the University of New South Wales and has been working with the urban strategies agency L’Atelier Parisien d’Urbanisme (APUR).
Home of the Future
Pavilion displaying propositions by Australian and overseas designers for houses of the future incorporating developing technologies; at the Melbourne Home Show, 17-25 August, 1996. Arranged by the Forté Group with design consultants Professor Chris Ryan, Jeff Provan, Clare McAllister and Michael Trudgeon.
Report by Nigel Bertram
Home of the Future exhibited the designers’ ideas about the way our homes might be in the next 15-20 years. Security will be tight, it seems, as in order to gain entry it was necessary to register name and address on a database (I am awaiting the junk mail).
Despite the associations evoked by the exhibit’s title, it is not a utopian ‘vision’ that suggests a radical change in the way we live in the way that Archigram’s ‘plug-in log’ and numerous other projects didbut rather a more pragmatic exposé of how we might improve the comfort and efficiency of living the way we do.
Architecturally (and this is the primary focus of this review), the home of the future pavilion is remarkably conventional: a steel frame clad with an urbane skin of corrugated iron and coloured laminate panels.
Internally the space is divided by machine-age sliding screens and curtains, with the cylindrical volume of the bedroom expressed on the exterior as a corner feature/turret. This space is of course loaded up with all the latest electronic equipment.
All the parts are visible. This is not the mysterious and seductive black box of technology that Jean Nouvel alluded to in his Tokyo Opera projectthe sleek, smooth container holding a myriad of impossible to understand functions. It is more like the house in Jacques Tati’s film Mon Oncle: a stylised version of a fairly straightforward spatial arrangement (a suburban villa) with an array of spectacular services.
This brings into focus the difference between the reality of technology (i.e. the physical thing on the table) and the idea of that technology; which has the ability of being translated into something architectural, as is evidenced by the work of say Toyo Ito, Nouvel and others who tackle some of the architectural questions raised by the new technology such as image/desire, effect, illusion, changeability, mystery and immateriality.
But for all this, Home of the Future is probably extremely accurate in terms of a prediction of our domestic world in 15-20 years time. This future may well appear ordinary and familiar, but with more appliancesand ‘architecture’ may have nothing to do with it.
In fact a more poignant vision might have left out the stainless steel yachting shackle hammock bed and nineties-moderne lampshades and simply put all the high-tech apparatus into a brick-veneer townhouse with mock-Victorian furniture.
Nigel Bertram is a principal of NMBW Architecture Studio, Melbourne, and an M.Arch student at RMIT.
M1:313Innovative Austrian Architecture
Exhibition of contemporary architecture in Austria or designed by Austrian architects, including Hans Hollein, Coop Himmelblau, Gunther Domenig, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, Mark Mack and Adoll Krishanit; at the Toast II gallery, Sydney, 5-15 September, 1996.
Review by Winston Barnett
This was a stunning exhibitionbut the real bonus was the catalogue, which covered the exhibition and much more.
Both traced the historic roots of modernism in Austria and its seminal influence in the pre-war United States, where exiles like Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra found new leases of life in California; a phenomenon to be repeated 60 years later by Coop Himmelblau via their links to SCIArch.
Austria’s global influence places her within the architectural avant garde with a strength that is disproportionate to her size. She lies as a rump of the Hapsburg Empire on the cusp of a pre-1989 European divide, but is alive and kicking, on this evidence. The exhibition dealt broadly with three themes: the building as monument, building interventions in the city, and the periphery and beyond. Running across these as twin counter-currents, influencing the making and remaking of the city and its buildings, was the problem of how to resolve what Michael Sorkin referred to as "a unique effusion". This is the task of accommodating the distinct visions of the city espoused by Wagner and Sitte. The first theme contributed the greatest part of the exhibition, with masterworks by many of Austria’s luminaries on display beside internationals in mono-cultural support.
The second theme neatly summed up the dilemma of building in the historic core. Here, a Burra-esque approach was happily less evident than a Ticino-influenced sensibility. Historic references were not trivialised or reduced to pastiche but respected. The new adds to tradition and does not subtract from it. Recent museum work by Tesar in Salzburg and Sepp in Vienna provided examples of fine new work in historic settings, while Coop Himmelblau’s celebrated attic offers a new datum for excellence in refurb.
The least conspicuous part of the exhibition, dealing with the periphery of the city and beyond, received serious attention in the book. Three essays, under the generic title ‘Urban Design’, outlined a new agenda for the profession which looks well beyond the themeing of place or escape into the dreaded New Urbanism of white picket fence-land.
These essays alone were worth the price ($80) of the book. What they are collectively saying is that there is a special role for the architect to play in the future: one that is beyond building isolated monuments or delicately inserting extensions into existing city fabricsbut instead one of proposing new paradigms for urban living which seriously address ecological issues and do not hide behind trite PR slogans.
Rüdiger Lainer’s urban score for Aspen might represent a new beginning. Redecking out the future in Grunderzeit blocks does notand could just lead to a dead end.
Associate-Professor Winston Barnett is an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at UTS.
The View from Abroad
Exhibition of 19th century tourist photographs of European monuments, at the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 30 July-13 October, 1996. Curated by Michael Bogle of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.
Review by Tim Laurence
The Historic Houses Trust again has demonstrated its wisdom in acquiring Rouse Hill House on Sydney’s north-west fringe. The View from Abroad displays a valuable part of the Rouse family’s eclectic cache of middle-class memorabilia; specifically a collection of 19th century view photographs gathered by the Rouses during their Grand Tours of Europe in 1868 and 1874. Under the curatorial direction of Michael Bogle, this exhibition is a delight for photography enthusiasts, Europhiles and every designer who has made the Grand Tour.
These prints are fine examples of the early photographers’ craft. Despite primitive equipment and darkroom procedures, the quality and clarity of the imagesmost from Britain and Italyis fine; especially considering their age and how they have been stored over the years. The content, however, offers much more.
A tourist photograph of Venice’s Ponte dei Sospiri, taken around 1876 by Carlo Naya.
In the catalogue introduction, Michael Bogle apologised for the traditional nature of the compositions, concluding that early photographers were more concerned with the alchemy of the medium than with exploring new ways of seeing. This traditional sense is fascinating to contemporary eyesand yet today’s architects and designers, taking their Grand Tours, inevitably capture via slides, snaps or sketchbook these same scenes from virtually the same viewpoints. All architectural paths are well-trodden. These are moments frozen in time. The viewer sees with memory as well as eye. On close scrutiny, one notes that time has altered peripheral qualities of the scenes, but not their essence. Some great monuments outlive their authors. Emblems of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Europe live on despite dictators, wars and, thus far, pollution. How brief is our tenancy.
Finally, the long exposure times required for these photographs produce some intriguing effects. Water appears waxy across the Piazetta in Venice and people are absentsave the occasional ghost. An image of the Castle Sant Angelo, Rome, captures a deserted wheelbarrow, laden with cobbles, beside a road; the labourer has gone during the exposure. To capture this sense of emptiness, this exhibition could have been titled ‘A Passing World’. Generations come and go while the great buildings watch.
Tim Laurence, an architect, directs the interior design program at UTS and recently co-curated an exhibition of new lighting.